|First race||United States Grand Prix||Watkins Glen||October 8, 1972||Race results|
|Last race||United States Grand Prix||Watkins Glen||October 5, 1980||Race results|
Jody Scheckter burst on to the scene as a fast but borderline reckless racing driver. His first national race in South Africa was a sign of things to come: he was black-flagged for dangerous driving. His skill was obvious though, and when he channelled his aggression he was borderline unbeatable in his early career, regular wins brought him the South African Formula Ford championship, and with it the 'Driver to Europe' scholarship.
He made the most of opportunity, moving to England and making a lot of noise. Impressive wins were as common as spectacular crashes, but the talent was clear for all to see, even if it hadn't been fully honed yet. McLaren were the first to try and tame it, giving him a drive in the 1972 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen just 18 months after his arrival in Europe.
Contracted to its Formula Two team, Scheckter also got regular drives in a third McLaren at grands prix during 1973. His progress was delayed however, when the recklessness returned. Having taken an early lead in France, he collided with reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi, taking both out of the race and causing Fittipaldi to denounce him a "madman". His next race was at Silverstone, and when running fourth at the end of the opening lap, he ran wide exiting Woodcote, spun the car across the track and in to the pit wall before rolling back in to the path of the rest of the field. It caused an accident involving so many cars that McLaren had to 'rest' him for a while to prevent him being banned.
His return was at the Canadian Grand Prix, where he proceeded to take Tyrell's Francois Cevert out of the race early on. Still, it wasn't enough to put off Ken Tyrell, who signed Scheckter to drive for the team in the 1974 season replacing outgoing world champion Jackie Stewart. After a scoreless first three races of the season, Scheckter started to add consistency to his obvious speed, and went on a streak of eight consecutive points-scoring finishes including two wins and three other podiums. Another second place left him in with an outside chance of the world championship, but a broken fuel feed pipe in the decider at Watkins Glen ended his challenge.
The following year was less successful, as only one win and three other top six results meant Scheckter finished seventh, and a win with the Tyrell P34 six-wheeler was his only victory of 1976 as he came a distant third in the championship. At the end of the year Scheckter decided Tyrell weren't quick enough, and signed for the new Wolf team.
Even Scheckter was pleasantly surprised with the start the team made, after qualifying tenth for its first grand prix in Argentina, six of the cars ahead of Scheckter retired in the race, and he took a debut victory for the team. Reliability proved to be a thorn in his side though, as he either finished on the podium or retired in every race that season bar the finale in Japan, but three wins were enough for him to take second place in the drivers' championship behind Niki Lauda. Lauda was driving for Ferrari, and after Scheckter had a poor year in 1978 he headed for the Italian marque.
The move paid off, as despite being team-mate to the often quicker Gilles Villeneuve, the more consistent Scheckter took three wins and only failed to score three times as he secured the world championship in his Ferrari with victory at Monza. In 1980, the Ferrari was well off the pace, as Scheckter even failed to qualify for one race and scored only 2 points all season. Having achieved his goal, he retired from Formula One. An astute man he remained, and made a fortune after building up and selling a firearms training systems company. It allowed him to finance the careers of two of his sons and set up an organic farm in Hampshire.
Strengths and weaknesses
Recklessly fast, Scheckter was a double edged sword in his early days as he would frustrate as much as he impressed. With consistency came better results, but his hard driving style did not help his cause as he still retired from too many races with mechanical failures prior to his move to Ferrari.
Proving critics wrong by forming an unexpectedly effective relationship with Ferrari, culminating in the 1979 world championship being claimed in front of the Tifosi at Monza. It was 21 years until Michael Schumacher brought the Prancing Horse another title.
Being the first driver to arrive on the scene of Francois Cevert's fatal crash in practice at Watkins Glen in 1973. He admitted afterwards that "from then on all I was trying to do in Formula One was save my life."
"This Scheckter has shown himself to be a wise co-ordinator of his own capabilities and potential, a man who plans things with the final result in mind, or for safety. I'm not sure." - Enzo Ferrari.
"Michael Schumacher deserved the driver's championship. To be honest, I didn't want to keep my record as the last Ferrari world champion; it's never done me any good!" - After Schumacher lost out to Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
On his Ferrari team-mate Gilles Villeneuve, who died in 1982: "Gilles was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. But more important for me is that he was the most genuine person I have ever known."
His elder brother, Ian, also raced in Formula one between 1974 and 1977, competing in 20 races. He was less successful though, scoring no points, and was unable to compete in his final F1 race in Japan as authorities expelled him for only having a tourist visa coupled with the Japanese objection to apartheid.
He is the only man to win a race in a six-wheeled Formula One car, and was inducted in to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1983.
March 13, 2010
© Sutton Images
March 13, 2010
© Sutton Images
May 18, 1980
© Sutton Images